As someone who's been working in nonprofit fundraising for more than 20 years, I'm all for giving worthy organizations as many resources as possible to help them raise the money they need to do good work. This guide is a a great tool to have handy, useful both for heads of large national charities and small or start-up community groups. While not without some flaws, "Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits" makes the fundamental point that essential "real-world strategy that works" is involving the donor in the life and work of your organization -- seeing her not as an ATM, but as a true partner: they also serve who "only" write checks.
My particular area of expertise is direct marketing, primarily direct mail, fundraising, and so I was dismayed to see author Ilona Bray take the somewhat disparaging tone toward DM that people in more "sophisticated" areas of the development field often do -- as when she, for example, contrasts fundraising mail with "other more substantive" ways of communicating with donors (p. 148). Bray repeats many of the urban legends of direct mail, like "nobody reads long letters," and is so concerned with "wearing out your supporters' goodwill" (p. 149) that she encourages organizations not to mail their donors more than three or four times a year (not counting, of course, the more substantive communications that downplay asking for help). It's hard to see how some of the organizations I've worked with that mail their supporters 12, 18, or even 24 times a year have managed to stay in business at all if donors are really that easily put off. Here, much of the author's information is interpretive or anecdotal. For instance, she tells a story about a "peeved donor" who quit giving because she was getting so much mail from a given organization, without inquiring into whether the organization was mailing so often because that had in fact proven to be the most efficient and effective fundraising plan. Every fundraising professional has stories about clients who react more strongly to one or two phone calls complaining about an appeal than they do to hundreds or thousands of supporters who not only did not complain, but sent in checks in response to that appeal. It's disconcerting to see that kind of reaction essentially endorsed in this guide.
(Also, I have to say that some of the sample fundraising letters reprinted here are not really that great, and one in particular, were I the relevant creative director, I'd have sent back to the writer with "Try again" written across the top.)
Bray's analysis of who gives and why was not bad, except she was strangely silent on the question of donors' religious motivations. Even if yours is a non-religious charity, chances are the bulk of your donors are religious themselves. I encourage interested parties to read Who Really Cares by Arthur C. Brooks for more about this important insight.
The above gaps and weaknesses aside, this guide is, as I say, a useful tool, particularly on the mechanics of planning fundraising campaigns, involving volunteers and staff, recognizing potential legal and tax hurdles, and communicating your message across a variety of media. Putting the donor front-and-center in your organization -- giving her a figurative or even literal seat on your board of directors -- is the essential element of success. The world needs more effective, donor-powered charities, and this guide can help make that come to pass.
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About the reviewer
Andrew S. Rogers (Cascadian)
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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"Gets into the best ways to keep the money flowing in, including using the Web and developing grass roots strategies." --Accounting Today
"If you have room for only one book on your fundraising bookshelf, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits should be that book. Author Ilona Bray... does a remarkable job giving key information about every aspect of fundraising without being too simplistic." --Advancing Philanthropy
"Provides clear answers for nonprofits, with advice from fundraisers, foundation staffers and journalists." --San Diego Union-Tribune--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.